General excise tax hike mulled as county drains fund balance

  • Target team member Jen Burns rings up a transaction for Kim and Cole Clark Friday at the Kona store. The county is considering a general excise tax hike, which would affect consumers. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

  • The current year’s general fund budget. (Hawaii County Finance Department

HILO — Mayor Harry Kim on Friday sent the County Council a bill to raise the general excise tax by one-half percent to balance next year’s budget, while telling a state legislative panel the county exhausted its fund balance to pay for this year.

Kim told state lawmakers the county took $20 million from last year’s leftover money, leaving just $89,000 in its fund balance while costs continue to rise for payroll and other county expenses. That’s despite hikes in property taxes and fuel taxes approved last year by Kim and the County Council.


“It was very clear that what I had to do as an elected official, the thing we hate to do, and that is raise taxes,” Kim told the panel in Honolulu.

The mayor added he was “damned embarrassed” on reading the morning’s newspaper and seeing he got a raise. Kim’s $30,581 raise was among big raises approved by the Salary Commission for 33 top officials.

The Legislature gave the counties authority to raise the general excise tax, or GET, provided they have an ordinance in place by March 31. It’s estimated to raise anywhere from $25 million to as much as $40 million for Hawaii County annually. So far, only Honolulu and Kauai have done so.

Council to vote on GET

Even as Kim blasted the GET hike as hitting poor people the most, his finance director sent the council a bill raising the tax.

“At this point, I don’t know whether I will push for it, or support it, but I will leave it open,” Kim told the panel. “The excise tax is the worst regressive tax. We’re taxing again the people who can least afford to pay taxes … they pay more.”

Kim was responding to Sen. Lorraine Inouye, D-Hilo, Hamakua, Kohala, North Kona, who asked why the county hasn’t taken advantage of the tax revenue opportunity provided by the Legislature.

“They ask us to help them and my suggestion is to go ahead and raise taxes,” Inouye said about county officials.

Kim told the panel costs outside his control continue to rise. Thanks to recent collective bargaining agreements at the state level, employees’ salaries and benefits now account for 62.5 percent of the $491 million county budget, he said.

Payments on bond issues from prior years account for 12.5 percent. A state-mandated increase in post-retirement benefits other than pensions, known as GASB-45, will bring next year’s county contribution to 15.35 percent of the general fund, compared to about 6 percent in 2006.

Hawaii County voters also passed a charter amendment that takes 2 percent of property tax revenues off the top to purchase land for preservation. Another 0.25 percent is taken to maintain those lands.

Mayors seek taxing authority

Kim, along with the other three county mayors and county council representatives from all four counties, asked the Senate Ways and Means Committee and House Finance Committee to restore previous allocations of the transient accommodations tax — collected on hotels and lodging of less than 180 days — to give the counties a greater share.

County mayors also asked the Legislature to give it more broad-based taxing authority, through HB 1664.

The bill states, “Each county shall have the power, by ordinance, for general revenue purposes, to levy, assess, and collect, or provide for the levying, assessment, and collection of taxes, including surcharges on taxes imposed by the state, as each county shall determine on persons, transactions, occupations, privileges, subjects, and personal property located within its geographical limits, and upon the transfer of real property, or of any interest in real property situate within the county levying and assessing the tax.”

HB 1665, part of the mayors’ legislative package, would give the counties 55 percent of TAT collections, with the state getting 45 percent. That could mean as much as $200 million for the counties to share, an amount that would increase as tourism increased. Currently, the counties share $103 million of the approximately $450 million collected each year, with Hawaii County getting $19.2 million of that.

The TAT is no longer the county’s second-highest source of revenue. Property taxes account for about 74.5 percent of this year’s general fund revenues, compared to 4.3 percent for TAT. Another 5 percent was drawn from the fund balance, and licenses and charges for services accounted for 6.1 percent.

The GET can be used only for roads and mass transit, but using that money could free up funds for other projects.

Council Chairwoman Valerie Poindexter, contacted in Honolulu where she was also attending the money committees hearing, wasn’t thrilled with the GET bill. But it will be added to an upcoming council agenda.

“I still believe that the GET tax is a regressive tax. There should be a way to incentivize this tax for the poor, disabled and elderly through exempting food and health-care expenses,” Poindexter said. “(I’m) looking forward to hearing from the public and having a lengthy discussion with my colleagues.”

‘We have to face reality’

Managing Director Wil Okabe said Kim is reluctant to raise the GET, but “we have to face reality and look at our revenues.”

Okabe lays the responsibility for the county’s tight budget at the feet of the Legislature. If the state hadn’t taken such a large chunk of the TAT, the county wouldn’t be so financially stressed, he said.

“It all circles back to what the Legislature did,” Okabe said. “The constituents on this island have to be aware of the ramifications of what the Legislature does.”

Deputy Finance Director Nancy Crawford said the fund balance has been this low before, but it’s still a concern. The county administration is currently formulating its budget for the fiscal year that starts July 1, and has until March 1 to present a preliminary spending plan to the council.

The county also has a budget stabilization fund of about $6.3 million still in reserves, she said.

“We know we will get some amount of fund balance this year, but we’re going to be very careful,” Crawford said. “The sky isn’t falling, but it is a concern.”

Kim described for the panel the impoverished conditions in Puna — the fastest growing district in the state — and Ka‘u, where most if not all students are on free and reduced lunches and residents lack basic infrastructure like county water.


Kim said the state needs to help, especially with the growing homeless problem.

“I can live with not-too-good roads. I can live with not-too-good parks,” Kim said. “But it is sure as hell hard to live in a community that is laden with poor people having a very, very difficult time.”

  1. John Smith January 21, 2018 12:28 am

    Swedish level taxes for Guatemalan level results.

    1. paul January 21, 2018 10:22 am

      good one….Christ,i hope Hawaii does not become a 3rd world shithole…ops

    2. Jim Passon January 21, 2018 7:01 pm

      well said

    3. golfpunk500 January 22, 2018 4:43 am

      It only hurts when I laugh…

  2. Ray Takeda January 21, 2018 12:46 am

    Why don’t they EVER cut spending???? If we keep voting these fools in I guess it’s our own fault……And with all these new pay increases, expect to see higher taxes.

    1. Rusty Da Clown January 22, 2018 7:32 am

      The last mayor was the only one in history to cut spending in this county year after year. I guess the people wanted to get milked again, so they brought back Harry, who doubled spending his first go around.

  3. diverdave January 21, 2018 5:07 am

    Spend and tax, spend and tax.

    1. konakai January 22, 2018 12:42 pm

      Thanks to long time democrats stranglehold on power that cater to public unions leaving taxpayers with outrageous tax burdens.

  4. Pest Outwest January 21, 2018 5:16 am

    “If the state hadn’t taken such a large chunk of the TAT, the county wouldn’t be so financially stressed”

    True, we are paying for the light rail boondoggle in the cancer on the Central Pacific, but does anyone believe without that drain they still wouldn’t be running out of money? Considering all the grotesque scandals and ineptitude of this past year?

    So what’s the answer? Elect fiscally conservative public officials? Not much chance of that, there is no choice in elections in this state, it’s just which socialist ends up winning the dog and pony show.

    1. wahineilikea January 21, 2018 12:45 pm

      Socialist? Harry Kim? He’s a Republican and always has been, as far as I can remember.

      1. Pest Outwest January 21, 2018 8:25 pm

        Hardly, he professed to be one for awhile when he first ran for mayor in 2000. He’s been an “independent” for at least 15 years. The Democrats in 2006 tried to recruit him to run against then Republican governor Linda Lingle.

        There was actually a time in this state when Republicans weren’t joke candidates, no more. All 25 Senators are Democrats, and 46 out of 51 Representatives. There are no general “elections” anymore.

      2. Rusty Da Clown January 22, 2018 7:30 am

        No republican would let the budget get out of control like Harry Kim (unless it was on war, of course). His first run as mayor he DOUBLED the spending. Let’s see what happens this time.

  5. Big ideas January 21, 2018 5:22 am

    Hawaii and Hawaii County – the very definition of insanity. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results! Get off the Democrat / Progressive plantation folks…vote for a conservative.

    1. wahineilikea January 21, 2018 12:44 pm

      Um . . . have you forgotten that Harry Kim is a Republican?

      1. Scooby January 21, 2018 1:18 pm

        I recall he jumped ship from one to the other prior to it being non-partisan. Harry is for Harry and his friends.

      2. Big ideas January 23, 2018 1:36 pm

        Really? You want to use that moniker for him? He just forgot to change his voter registration status…..too lazy.

      3. Big ideas January 26, 2018 6:40 am

        I sheeps clothing

  6. Scooby January 21, 2018 6:50 am

    Sign of dementia Harry? You and your entire cabinet just got the largest raises in county history and the very same week you ask to raise taxes because of a shortfall? Glad I didn’t vote for this loser.

  7. KonaLife January 21, 2018 7:07 am

    Disgraceful! 20-30% raises for country officials and then huge tax increase for island residents (and visitors).

    Just say it:

    We the government workers deserve your money more than you do (even though you worked for it).


    We, the government workers, are entitled to a excessive salary and benefits at your expense.

  8. FBG January 21, 2018 7:20 am

    Given that Mayor Kim knows that the Excise Tax is the most regressive of taxes; why does he choose to raise this tax rather than the property tax which has many options to ease the burden on those least able to afford it. The homeless by definition pay no property tax and property tax on low income rentals is half that of normal property tax.

    1. Jim Passon January 21, 2018 7:04 pm

      rent goes up and it is also paid for by lower income. at 30k (after all with holdings) and assume 100% is spent……$3.00/week

  9. LOL in Kona January 21, 2018 7:24 am

    Haaa, Haaa, Haaa!
    Big raises, 50% of the budget for themselves
    (debt, cushy pension, cushy medical, goberment, bribing leeches/loafers/drugges, etc)
    And, of course, real estate taxes are UP! UP! UP!

    but YOU need to pay more!!!
    Especially if you don’t have much money!!
    Haaa, Haaa, Haaa.

    Oh, and by the way,
    they need to lay off police/fire/first responders
    …cuz that will get YOUR attention!
    Haaa, Haaa, Haaa

  10. metalman808 January 21, 2018 7:35 am

    Old mans losing his mind on our dime. What a Rat.

  11. wahineilikea January 21, 2018 8:23 am

    Does the county think we are stupid? Apparently so! Giving huge, HUGE, unearned raised to all the top county officials, and then turning around and trying to raise the GE tax so they can extract their raises out of our hard-earned, already taxed-to-the-hilt incomes?

  12. paul January 21, 2018 10:21 am

    hey harry,Dont raise the tax because you cannot manage the government correctly,stop giving so much away in welfare,stop the waste,corruption,ignorance and stupidity and maybe there will not be a need

    1. Scooby January 21, 2018 10:40 am

      That’s the problem, Harry Kim never properly managed this county ever. He mismanaged throughout his tenure but had the benefit of the “fat” years. His campaign lie of restoring trust was actually his promise to restoring his friends pockets with tax payer money, sadly there’s more to come. We should demand accountability from every appointed official and make their sorry excuses public.

  13. Richard95070 January 21, 2018 11:24 am


  14. Rusty Da Clown January 21, 2018 1:21 pm

    Harry Kim has no management ability, and this proves it. Run the money down then tax more. Why didn’t he work on this sooner if he knew the fund balance was going down?

  15. Luter January 21, 2018 3:08 pm

    The political system in Hawaii is nothing more than legal organized crime. It is not going to change. They have a good thing going.

  16. Buds4All January 21, 2018 4:40 pm

    “It was very clear that what I had to do as an elected official, the thing we hate to do, and that is raise taxes,” Kim told the panel in Honolulu. I really don’t think he has that big of a problem with it. How about we start with getting someone that can run the BI and not let spending spiral out of control by filling the coffers of his buddies? Fix that first and then see if we have enough money!

  17. Big Dee January 21, 2018 5:17 pm

    It’s the Hawaiian Robin Hood.
    Rob from the poor. Give it to Big Government.

  18. 4whatitsworth January 22, 2018 2:21 pm

    Kim should be embarrassed he could have really fought for the telescope (TMT) 4% of 1.4 Billion would raise 560 Million. Not promoting economic development while increasing tax percentages does not end well unless you work for the government of course.

  19. Finn January 22, 2018 9:09 pm

    This county and state are a lost cause……and yet we continue to recycle the same old tired ideas by the same old lame politicians. Time for some real change……

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